Jordan Tones Down Textbooks’ Islamic Content, and Tempers Rise – The New York Times

Interesting article on one of the challenges facing Jordan:

When Jordan’s school year began last month, educators began noticing tweaks in the curriculum.

Along with the images of women wearing head scarves were a few who went without them. Cleanshaven men appeared alongside drawings of devout, bearded ones. And references to Islam, once sprinkled liberally throughout textbooks and other class materials, were scaled back.

The 70 or so tweaks to Jordan’s textbooks for first through 12th grades are small. The books are still laden with Islamic references: The 10th-grade science text, for example, encourages students to marvel over God’s creation as it discusses evolution.

But they are one of the Middle East’s first noticeable efforts to moderate the school curriculum in hopes of preventing youths from drifting to extreme ideologies.

“It could be a test case for the region,” said Musa Shteiwi, a sociologist who sat on an Education Ministry committee for six months last year to change the textbooks. “All of us in the Arab world have the same problems. We are all entering this battle.”

So far, this modest effort has not gone well. Islamists see it as a threat to their traditional domination of the education system. And among Jordan’s mostly conservative Muslim population, many view the changes as a declaration of war on Islamic values.

“Obama and Clinton’s schools are not for us!” shouted Mahmoud Abu Rakhiya, an Islamist in Maan, a desert town in southern Jordan, at a rally on a recent Friday in late September. In the capital, Amman, around the same time, teachers set a pile of textbooks on fire. A woman in a white face veil shouted: “We don’t need these textbooks anyway! We will teach them what we want!”

Even those who support changes to the curriculum say the government bungled the effort. Jumana Ghunaimat, the editor in chief of Al Ghad, a liberal newspaper that campaigned for a new curriculum, said the changes, introduced without public debate, had antagonized conservative Jordanians.

“I fear that this will not bring positive change,” Ms. Ghunaimat said.

She added, “And today we are in a hard place,” referring to growing fears of extremist violence in Jordan.

The curriculum changes are part of the balancing act that Jordan’s monarchy has long attempted to appease its conservative citizens; the United States, a loyal ally that provides crucial aid; its noisy secular elite; and its influential Christian minority. (Even as the government issued the new textbooks, it arrested a Jordanian writer, Nahed Hattar, for sharing a cartoon on Facebook that many saw as mocking God. Mr. Hattar, 56, a prominent writer from a Christian family, was fatally shot when he showed up at a courthouse on Sept. 25 to face criminal charges of insulting Islam.)

The problem with the previous Jordanian curriculum, advocates for change said, was that Islam dominated every subject, without teaching children about the shared humanity of non-Muslims, including other Jordanian citizens. For instance, Jordanians are taught, “You are a Muslim, and therefore you are moral,” said Oraib al-Rantawi, director general of Al Quds Center for Political Studies, which argued for revisions. “So the question is, what of others? Non-Muslims? Are they moral?”

Source: Jordan Tones Down Textbooks’ Islamic Content, and Tempers Rise – The New York Times

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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